Baby Language

One of the most challenging things in the first couple of weeks was having no idea what the cries meant. All I knew was that they broke my heart, and I immediately wanted to figure out what was wrong and what we needed to do to fix it.

A Facebook friend left this video on my page:

Extremely fascinating, and pretty darn accurate.

According to Priscilla Dunstan, babies have 5 words that the use to describe their needs. These words (or sounds, rather) are universal- so a child across the world would use the same sound to indicate hunger as one in the US might.

The video thoroughly explains each sound and is definitely worth a watch.

There’s also a DVD, which I haven’t seen, but think would be awesome to watch during pregnancy:

image Source

Even though Livi’s sounds aren’t exactly the same as the ones she describes, the indicators and body language are. For example, her “hungry” cry doesn’t sound like the “neh” in the video, but she brings her tongue to the roof of her mouth. The “burp me” and “gassy” sounds are dead-on, and while we sometimes still have to use process of elimination over here, it was a very helpful hint into what her cries mean.

How long did it take you to decipher your baby’s cries?

Friends sans kids: what’s the worst place you’ve been stuck next to a crying baby, or the worst tantrum you’ve witnessed? I’ll never forget when I was at Target in Valdosta and a small girl in the cart reached up and slapped her mom across the face, hard. The mom picked up the girl and said “ You hurt me, so we’re going home and not buying any of these toys.” The girl shrieked her face off and the mom impressed me so much with how calm she was.

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  1. Jessica on February 4, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing this! I’m due in 6 weeks with my first and have so much anxiety about crying, feeding, sleeping, etc! Your family posts have been so helpful!

  2. Mandy on February 4, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    My baby’s never cried much – he’s pretty amiable all around. We had some issues with gas at the start, and even though I knew of the baby language, it just didn’t translate to our guy very well. After about 6 weeks, we picked up on his cues well by ourselves (for sleepy, he’ll yawn, blink a lot, rub his eyes or crank for no reason).. diaper he doesn’t really mind, so it’s up to us to keep it clean. It’s pretty easy to know when he’s pooping though… haha. Gas hasn’t been an issue in months, so he doesn’t cry for that. Hunger – well, we feed him regularly and he never really cries for it, even when he wakes up after 8 hours. He just talks when he wakes up.

    We’re spoiled.

  3. Christine @ BookishlyB on February 4, 2012 at 8:36 pm

    I was like seventeen taking an Amtrak bus over some mountains and the mom next to me (who was about my age) had a six month old that was miserable. I finally got so frustrated I offered to take the baby! She let me and I fed him and talked to him the rest of the trip. All those years babysitting my siblings paid off!

  4. Meagan on February 4, 2012 at 8:38 pm

    Wow! I remember these noises, especially the ‘neh’. That’s amazing! I’ll definitely get the DVD for #2.

  5. Dani @ RunFitMama on February 4, 2012 at 8:55 pm

    We were spoiled with Jack as a newborn, he was pretty easy. I’m hoping we don’t have to pay for it with the second one. But right now we’re in tantrums as a two year old. A coue of days ago we were at Wal Mart and he wanted a toy train. I said no and he was not happy. Screaming, crying, he even hit me! I couldn’t believe my sweet boy hit me. I tried my best to remain calm, but it was hard when people were staring. I said to one woman who was staring, “What are you looking at?!?” I’m proud that I stuck to my guns and didn’t give in. I’d much rather teach these lessons now than with a 16 year old.

  6. Pinky on February 4, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    Crying/screaming 1 year old on a 7 hour flight to Miami from Brazil….NO BUENO!

    • Sara on February 4, 2012 at 9:02 pm

      Oh hey, just saw we were posting similar comments. Therefore I totally sympathise. Nothing worse. Nowhere to go and no way to ignore the disapproving looks and under-the-breath comments of other passengers….

  7. Sara on February 4, 2012 at 8:59 pm

    Aeroplane! Oh My God. Twelve hours of hell for all passengers and terrible guilt for the caregivers (me and my man). It was a turbulent flight and she just HATED being strapped in. Whenever the ‘seatbelt’ sign came on we had to either put her in the lap extension belt or the cot, which has a cover that zips tightly over the baby. She loudly objected to both these things. If she was asleep on an empty seat, we had to pick her up to do so, usually waking her. If she was asleep in the cot we had to zip the pouch, usually waking her. It was getting to the point where everyone in our part of the plane (and probably every part of the plane) would audibly groan every time that ‘seatbelts fastened’ light ‘bing’d on. I’m still traumatised. We tried to just sneakily pretend we didn’t notice the light coming on but the stewardess would always come and very apologetically remind us that we had to strap the baby in now. By the time we got to Zurich, I was just ready to give her away to the first person we saw and go straight into a nervous breakdown.

  8. Colleen on February 4, 2012 at 9:07 pm

    That’s totally fascinating! Hopefully between this and “Happiest Baby on the Block,” I’ll be able to decrease crying time with my little guy due in 3 months. Thanks for sharing so much helpful information!!

  9. Megan @ On the Road Again on February 4, 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Thanks for posting the video. I’m curious to see how my little one’s cries match up. Hope it will help me decipher her needs! We are still playing the guessing game here, but we have at least figured out some “faces” (i.e., she gets dead silent and stops moving when she has to poop!)

  10. Sara on February 4, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    Aaaand, same child five years later, having a 5 year old tantrum because I wasn’t buying MORE lollies. This is in a busy bus station. She was yelling at me and screaming, in German, ‘You are NOT my Aunty!’ (the worst insult she can think of) and other things I couldn’t understand. I was trying to calm her down in English and getting a LOT of looks. I wondered if people thought I was trying to kidnap her. Then she noticed everyone staring, stuffed her head up my t-shirt, started crying and that she wasn’t going anywhere or taking her head out of my t-shirt until everyone stopped looking. As I could not really just ‘clear the station, my niece is feeling embarrassed!’, I had to walk out of there with a child trying to hide up my top. I think this is the worst tanty I remember.

  11. Michelle @ A Healthy Mrs on February 4, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    It’s always uncomfortable when there’s a screaming baby on an airplane — mostly because the poor parents end up feeling horrible because of the one or two stuffy passengers giving them the stink eye. Obviously it’s not an ideal situation, but the parents are doing everything they can to calm the baby — cut them some slack people! 🙂

  12. Katie @ Pop Culture Cuisine on February 4, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I have to say that although I watched that segment and took notes, I was never fully able to identify all of the noises exactly, rather we sort of just got in a rhythm based on our general schedule so I was better able to discern what might be wrong. And now that she is 4 months, typically she only has her worst outbursts when she is overly tired and can’t calm down easily. But it was really helpful to initially start to understand that all crying didn’t mean the same thing.

  13. Lauren @ Lawfully Wedded Wife on February 4, 2012 at 9:30 pm

    WOW that video is amazing! I don’t have kids but I can recognize those cries from my younger siblings!

  14. Stephanie on February 4, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    I totally remember that baby language!! it was totally spot on!!

  15. Michaela on February 4, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    this is amazing!
    I have known already that a baby has different cries, but this is so interesting and helpful!

  16. Roselyn @ A Balanced Fit on February 4, 2012 at 10:01 pm

    I had no idea what my first son wanted for the longest time. By the time I had my second, I knew babies cried for #1: food and #2:sleep. It went much more smoothly once I learned that!

    The parents that remain calm amidst a public temper tantrum always impresses me!!

  17. Army Amy* on February 4, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    Very interesting clip! I’m totally passing it on to my preggo friend.*

  18. Heather Eats Almond Butter on February 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Took me a while to figure out the cries and for a long time we were feeding the baby when she was actually just tired. We refer to that period of her life as “Operation Overfeed”. Once I figured out the nap thing (thank you Dr. Weissbluth), deciphering the cries was much easier.

    Worst baby meltdown? None really stick out to me, but the other day I was eating lunch out with friends and watched two young children – a brother and sister, probably 3 or 4 leave their table and run around and around another table where a couple was trying to enjoy their lunch, and the parents did nothing to stop them. Then as we were leaving, they were leaving at the same time, and the boy came up and popped my friend on the leg with a menu – it came out of nowhere, and the parents did nothing. One of my friends pulled me aside, and said, please don’t let ever let your kids be like this…it was really quite unbelievable.

  19. Molly on February 4, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    the worst tantrum I ever experienced was also in a Target! (but in San Antonio) You could hear the child screaming no matter where you were in that super Target. I have never experienced any thing like it!

  20. jenny on February 5, 2012 at 1:08 am

    The worst crying spells I’ve ever had to endure were with my own children. I had two that hated the car seat. They would scream and scream. After an hour drive I would be a nervous wreck and my nerves were fried! I also had a baby that screamed every time I went grocery shopping. It made shopping so frustrating and I got a lot of stares from people, but I just couldn’t make the little guy happy!
    The worst temper tantrum I’ve experienced was with my sister-in-law and her kids. We were at the library (of all places) and they were playing in the play area. When their mom told them to pick up the toys because it was time to go they threw a fit! They were screaming and throwing toys, and one just peed right all over the library floor and book shelf. I totally wanted to go hide under a book shelf and pretend that I didn’t know them!!!

  21. Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga on February 5, 2012 at 2:33 am

    I thought all cries were just…..cries. Until I had my own baby and then I realized a hunger cry is different from an I just want to be held cry to an I’m tired and need to rest cry….they are all different and it’s amazing how fast you learn to cue into them as the parent.

    I’ve seen some amazing tantrums in my life and many times the parents don’t remain calm (and I admit, it’s soooo un-nerving and unsettling as the parent to have your child upset) but remaining calm is key.

  22. Magda on February 5, 2012 at 4:15 am

    I’ll never forget a bus ride with a boy who was screaming on top of his lungs for like 30 minutes non stop. And he wasn’t a baby – I’d guess he was about 4-5 years old. The passengers tried to ask his mom to make him stop (or at least try to), but the answer was “Who are you to tell me what I should do to my child” :-/

  23. Sue @ Sue In Training on February 5, 2012 at 4:26 am

    Worst tantrum I ever witnessed: A little boy was crying, screaming, and rolling on the (dirty, cold) side walk. His parents were just simply sitting on a bench next to him, doing nothing! I’m not a mom myself, and I know zero about rasing little children, but somehow it always bothers me, when I see little ones crying their eyes out, while their parents ignore them. Sometimes I just want to walk over, hug the kid, and try to calm him/her. I mean, as a parent you should at least try to do something, or am I wrong?

    • beth on February 5, 2012 at 3:42 pm

      Obviously it depends on the situation but often times the best thing you can to is to ignore it otherwise you are encouraging them to do it again. If you don’t react when I kid throws a tantrum eventually they will learn that it is a behavior that doesn’t get them what they want and they will stop doing it.

  24. Nadine on February 5, 2012 at 5:51 am

    Too many tantrums to mention at this point (my kids are 14 and 12) but try to remember that calm. It helps all the way from Livi’s age now (she can tell when you’re anxious too) – and then, when they are teenagers it will help them remember that no matter how out of control THEY feel, YOU are in control. I am still trying to learn this, but I can tell you how much damage NOT being calm can do 🙁 And @Sue In Training…kids are reaction junkies. As long as that kid was safe (not going to hurt himself or someone else) sometimes the best thing to do is not feed the beast!

  25. Annalisa on February 5, 2012 at 7:39 am

    we did the same thing and it saved us! basically, we used a ton of mommy’s bliss gripe water at night when we heard “ehh”!

  26. Kristen on February 5, 2012 at 8:07 am

    I watched a talk show once about tantrums. And the doctors said that parents basically have no control over a child’s tantrum. No matter how good of a parent you’ve been a tantrum is inevidible. It’s how the parent handles the situation that matters. One lady had a sense of humor about it and kept a sign in her purse that read: “My opologies, tantrum in progress”. She put it on the buggy in the store and kept shopping!

  27. Christina W on February 5, 2012 at 8:40 am

    Is there an easy way to look back at the posts when you were pregnant? I have to keep pressing the “previous posts” to get back a few months:( Also, can u do your winter shape up while pregnent? Thanks.

  28. Anna @ On Anna's Plate on February 5, 2012 at 9:12 am

    Do you ever listen to the podcast, “Pregtastic”? I’ve been obsessed with it during my pregnancy 🙂 Anyway, they did an entire episode on this method, and I found it to be pretty interesting– but not quite as helpful without having the baby yet, haha. You might check it out if you want further information!

  29. Donna C on February 5, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Fascinating clip…will have to pass this along to my prego friends! I hosted a baby shower yesterday and thought of you when I opened my hostess gift. I am a pilot’s wife as well…except my pilot flies F-16’s. The gift was from…you should check it out…there’s A-10 stuff there too!

    • Fitnessista on February 5, 2012 at 10:47 am

      ahhh i love it! can’t wait to see what they have 🙂

  30. Ali on February 5, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    YAY!!!!! I’m so glad you like the video, I just KNEW it would help you 🙂 A big thanks to my mama for sharing it with me. It’s super fascinating, huh? Hope it helps you to understand baby Livy a little more 🙂

  31. Lara on February 5, 2012 at 1:40 pm

    I remember seeing this on Oprah years ago and it is SO fascinating! Thanks for re-posting so I can look into this further now. I’d love to hear about your experiences with Livi if you decide to buy the DVD!

  32. Marie on February 6, 2012 at 10:59 am

    Incredible! I wish someone had shown me this sooner! Half an hour ago my daughter was screaming the “eair” sound and then had an outfit-changing blowout and fell right to sleep.

  33. bri on February 6, 2012 at 11:46 am

    I’m definitely going to be watching this video!

    My husband and I were very adamant on not wanting kids, but it would seem that destiny did not agree with us. I’m now 12 weeks pregnant and couldn’t be happier. Serendipity at it’s best!

    The main issue with never expecting to have children is that I never in my life even THOUGHT about reading anything on pregnancy or parenting. Now I’m trying to gather as much information as possible!

    I’m SO glad I found your blog. I started reading it before I was pregnant and I remember thinking to myself how much I loved how much YOU loved being pregnant. Then, when I found out I was, I knew that I couldn’t dwell on the loss of the life I had planned for myself, I had to embrace this new life. I knew I had to try my hardest to focus on all the beautiful things about pregnancy so I wouldn’t dwell on the not-so-pretty things – especially since this was never in the plans. One of the things that has helped has been blogging about it. I started a blog with the intention of talking about what it’s like to be child-free and now I’m talking about what it’s like to go from not wanting kids at all to being happily pregnant. 😛

    So, anyway, that was a long, drawn out way of telling you THANK YOU! 🙂

  34. The Mommy on February 6, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I bought that DVD, it did nothing for me. I think the lesson here is to listen to your own baby, not for the sounds that this woman talks about specifically, but to actually listen and figure out what your own baby’s sounds mean. I can’t remember how long it took to figure out our oldest’s cries, but we also got caught in a batch of colic right off the hop and that was brutal.

    With our second we just seemed to know what each cry meant, and you’re more proactive the second time around – as opposed to feeling like you’re playing catch up with baby #1 if that makes sense; you remember to burp thoroughly, you change that diaper frequently, you seem to know when it’s just a fuss as opposed to a “I need something”, etc.

    All I know is, babies come into the world fully expecting us to know what they need at any given moment, and for both of my girls the majority of the time if it wasn’t hunger-related, it was gas. 🙂

    Worst scenario, hands down, is just being the parent on a flight with your child crying. Even if they don’t cry for very long, you feel like it is forever. Even if it’s only the people immediately surrounding you who hear him/her it’s horrendous. And the dirty looks that you get just There was a total a-hole on a flight with us once and he kept tossing dirty looks over his shoulder and making snide remarks to his wife while my oldest (still a baby then) fussed and screamed. I felt like getting up and yelling at him,”Believe me, dude, the person on this flight who most wants my baby to stop crying is my baby! We’re not doing this on purpose!”

  35. aj on February 6, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I usually don’t mind crying babies, as I love kids and I’ve been a nanny and I TOTALLY feel for a mom with a crying little one. The parent is usually the real victim, because they are stressing over how everyone else is bothered AND frantically trying to care for a fussy little one. Oy Vey! Its not easy to be in charge of another human being’s actions! I am mega impressed by your target story. I’ll bet it sucked for her to cut her errands short and be embarrassed for the day, but I’m also willing to bet that she had to do that very few times. The little girl got the clear message that her behavior is not acceptable.

  36. Jen on February 6, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    I wish I had seen this 2 months ago – it’s SO ACCURATE! Thanks for sharing!

  37. Amber @ Bold, Busy, Blessed on February 6, 2012 at 8:50 pm

    My boyfriend and I were on a plane to Jamaica and there were 2 babies right next to us! It was the worst, who brings a baby to Jamaica anyway?!

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